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Atlanta Linens Show Courts Specialty Stores

Heath E. Combs, Cecile Corral -- Home Textiles Today, February 26, 2007

Murray Massre, president of Ocean Township, N.J.-based Fino Lino Linen and Lace, hopes the new International Fine Linen and Home Textiles market here will help fill a void left in the spring when the New York Home Textiles Show moved to February from April.

"I was integral in planning this new market," he explained to HTT. "The New York show was the only upscale linen show, but when they moved it, it left companies like ours hanging and without a chance to see those important specialty-store customers, who tend to order more often on a day-to-day basis than the big chains."

With more than 100 permanent showrooms already in Atlanta, the AmericasMart and Massre, among many others, he figured creating a new market here "was a no-brainer. We just open our doors."

And even for those without permanent space, there are temporary booths available. In fact, there are more than 200 companies occupying temporary space to showcase their luxury lines for this niche event.

Looking to court new distributors in the boutique and gift sectors is New York-based Welspun USA with its new line of "true luxury products," such as its recently introduced ultra-fine yarn counts, said Bob Hamilton, marketing director.

"We believe that to be and grow, we need to take a position with every retail channel," he said, "and this high-end specialty channel [that attends this market] is not being served by the bigger players. So we see an opportunity for ourselves."

On the same path is Pella, Iowa-based Heritage Lace. As retail marketing manager Machelle Bloodsworth puts it, "if we could tap some of those higher-end dollars, we would love that. We are always looking for new dealers, and for how we can differentiate our product a little bit so we can attract some of those people."

New finer linen fabrications — beyond its core line of "typical ecru polyester lace" assortments, she said — are making this graduation possible. For this market, Heritage Lace has developed some more formal and intricate holiday collections, like Glisten, which is a poly-viscose blended fabric with a pattern of silver embroidered snowflakes, and a grouping of deep red, ivory, and black clipped lace designs on a damask.

"We're adding other fabrications like wovens to hit higher price points," Bloodsworth explained. "We're also trying to create more color. That is what customers are really attracted to. By branching out into new fine linens we're able to add more color."

Coconut Grove, Fla.-based Pablo Mekis Artisan Pillows Inc. has its permanent showroom stocked with about 1,500 styles that cater to boutique customers.

"I'm super optimistic about this new market," said Mekis, whose line comprises all-natural decorative pillows made of linen, cotton, silk, and wool with hand-embroidered designs, made in Chile. Each pillow takes 40 days to make.

"I'm expecting a great turnout," he said.

Fino Lino's Massre has guarded enthusiasm about retailer attendance, which he sees as potentially being "initially light" because of its timing when so many other markets are taking place. But he said the dates for future markets could be "tweaked" closer to April to accommodate vendors' and retailers' needs.

Added Craig Benepe, president, Atlanta-based Home Source International: "My expectation is the customers will be largely regional." He thought the market could "potentially draw more traffic if it were instead at the end of March or in April. However, you have to remember conflicts with Easter and High Point during those periods."

Pamela Kline, ceo of Traditions by Pamela Kline, said that while she knows "a lot of shows are going on now," keeping buyers busy and travel weary, "this one is very targeted toward people for luxury bed linens."

For this reason, she has created the Picnic Striped Quilts collection, which coordinates to her new Island collection.

Home Source International has its reservations about market attendance. "I think the customers are pretty exhausted with the various shows in January and February," Benepe observed. "This show is close enough behind the others that most [retailers] will pass on it because they've done their buying already."

Even so, the company decided not to miss the opportunity to showcase its newest luxury wares. "This show, in sales volume, will not compete with the business we receive [during the shows] in January or August," he continued. "But I hope I'm proven wrong."

That said, Home Source is showing the new products that garnered the best retailer response during this season's earlier markets, such at the New York Home Textiles Show. This includes 500-thread count microcotton sheets, which were made to keep the user cool.

"These sheets are not hot," Benepe explained. "We figured out a way to make these yarns breathe despite the high thread count. These are single yarns, not plied yarns."

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